Cork singer: I spent over 250 days in hospital

As a Cork hotel prepares to host a Women’s Little Christmas gig, featuring the Legends of the Showband era, CHRIS DUNNE talks to Tony Stevens about the ‘good old days’, his successful career, and how he was lucky to survive a serious car crash
Cork singer: I spent over 250 days in hospital
Tony Stevens in his beloved Cork City.  Picture:Eddie O'Hare

POPULAR Ballinlough crooner Tony Stevens is making his showband comeback in his home town of Cork, in For All The Girls He’s Loved Before at the Clayton Silver Springs Hotel on Women’s Little Christmas, this January 6.

“I am really looking forward to the occasion,” says Tony.

“I always had an amazing legion of loyal fans in Cork. I remember playing some fantastic gigs there over the years. Venues like the Hilton, Vienna Woods and the Rochestown Park, bring back some great memories of those good old days.

“I had a brilliant seven-piece band accompanying me and we had a huge following in Munster and in the North of Ireland.”

The well-known legends of the Cork show- band era like Joe Mac, Tony Stevens, Olivia Douglas, Art Supple, Mick Flavin, Johnny Carroll, and Sligo singer Sandy Kelly, will herald in a new decade with the music of nostalgia and bygone times at the Clayton Silver Springs for Women’s Little Christmas.

“I’ll be singing the well-known favourites including To All the Girls I Knew Before and African Lady,” says Tony, who is delighted to be making his jubilant comeback in his native city of Cork.

The decade of the ’90s was a memorable one for Tony. But on December 23, 1992, at the height of his fame, his van crashed at Milltown, Co. Galway, when he was on his way home from a festive engagement.

“My career was really taking off at the time of the accident,” says Tony, who suffered severe injuries due to the accident, including multiple fractures to his ribs, pelvis and legs. He was hospitalised over Christmas at Galway University Hospital before being transferred to CUH in January, 1993.

“I spent over 250 days in and out of hospital,” says Tony, who was then in the prime of his life, aged 46. He was a popular singer who performed both pop and country and western, becoming very successful with his own one-hour television special from the Cork Opera House and making many other television appearances including The Late Late Show.

He can recall the accident that halted his stellar career like it was yesterday.

“We had a really good session in Julian’s Lounge in Milltown in Co. Galway,” says Tony, whose real name is Tony Murphy, and who left school at 13. After finishing an apprenticeship as a panel beater, Tony became a welder. He worked at the Ford car plant until 1980 and while he was there he did stints as a singer and musician in Cork and Munster. Tony decided to quit his job and sing full-time.

“At the time of the accident I had changed my name and changed my manager and advance bookings for 1993 were excellent,” says Tony.

“My album, To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before, was doing really well. One of my records made the British charts.”

Then it all changed.

“The road was icy that night,” recall Tony.

“An articulated truck came out of nowhere and struck our van. There was no escape.”

He knew nothing more until he saw the van’s engine sitting on his lap.

“All involved in the crash were very lucky to come out of it alive,” says Tony.

“Nothing happened to the driver of the truck which was a miracle.

“Members of my band broke bones, hips and pelvis. Our guitarist, Vincent Lynch, had two broken legs. The piano player, Bobby Nolan, broke his pelvis and his leg.”

Tony sustained life-threatening injuries, putting an end to his show band career for the foreseeable future.

“Both my legs were crushed,” he says. “My pelvis was in smithereens. My thigh bone came out through my leg. Eight of my ribs were crushed, as well as five discs in my back damaged. I lost 40 units of blood.

“I spent two years in hospital. But I count myself lucky to be alive.”

Tony suffered post-traumatic stress leading to depression. He recalls: “I had to take a cocktail of medications.”

But he didn’t give up on his career or on his fans.

“I attempted to make a comeback to the stage a few years back,” says Tony, who is also a diabetic.

“I tried returning to work in a very low-key way. In my mind; I could do anything, trying the best I could.”

He needed a purpose in life. “I needed something to do,” explains Tony.

And he wanted to do what he loved doing best.

“The number of physiotherapy appointments and medical appointments I had to attend was colossal,” says Tony. “I had to learn to walk again.”

All the stress on his body and on his mind took its toll.

“My marriage broke down. I took to the drink. I caved in.”

But he learned how to pick himself up and dust himself off again.

He decided to try and return to the spotlight; the place where he thrived best.

“I love singing and performing,” says Tony. “Yes, I still have loads of hospital and clinic appointments. But life goes on.”

All the girls he performed for before will be delighted to see Tony in action in Cork on January 6, just like the old days.

“And they were great days,” says Tony. “I know Women’s Little Christmas in the Silver Springs Clayton in the company of all the show band greats will be a great night.”

Women’s Little Christmas, Legends of the Showband era, takes place in the Clayton Silver Springs Hotel on January 6, 2020. Dinner at 8pm. Show at 10.15pm sharp. Tickets €55. Call 086-8609924.

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